5 Insights from Inside Out

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3D animated movies sure have come a long way. Not just in the effects they use, but in the affect they can have on us.

Inside Out is a movie which features the bright colours, animation, and big eyed characters that kids love, while managing to explore an issue that’s unfortunately surrounded by so much stigma, that even adults feel uncomfortable going near it; it’s mental health.

I remember leaving the cinema after Toy Story feeling touched. After Inside Out, I felt like I  had also been taught; there’s definitely a few things to be learnt from this movie. Mostly  about the role that emotions and memories play in our lives. Here’s 5 of those insights.

1) WE’RE MADE FROM MEMORIES & MOMENTS

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The theory is that one’s personality consists of “islands”. These islands are the different attitudes and interests that make us who we are. For example, hockey island and goofball island are two of Rliey’s (Inside Out’s protagonist). Forming these islands are certain “core” memories – often obtained during our childhood when we’re first discovering the world and what about it most appeals to us. Keeping these islands running is the ongoing experience of similar moments: the creation of new memories, and essentially, reinforcement. Old islands can crumble and new ones can be built.  Definitely simplified, but it’s a great way to understand how we come to be who we are, as well as go on to change.

2) MEMORIES ARE ALWAYS ON THE MOVE 

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Throughout the film, memories are represented by yellow glowing orbs – and they’re everywhere! They’re being sent back and forth between Riliey’s conscious awareness and storage, and even getting thrown to the dump when they’re deemed to be no longer needed. Memories might actually be neurological signals rather than rolling orbs, but we’re able to “call” on them in a similar way. During our worst times, remember better ones can have a drastic effect on our mood – hence the effectiveness of meditations that focus on positive experiences and emotions. When it comes to memories getting dumped, that might happen with age, but activities like journaling, taking photos, and keeping mementos can help us hold onto our favourites.

3) HOW WE FEEL NOW CAN CHANGE HOW WE FELT THEN

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The memories that once made Riley happy eventually start making her sad. This occurs when Sadness (one of the voices in Riley’s head) starts “accidentally” touching Joy’s memories, turning them from yellow to an upsetting blue. We perfectly capable of making the same mistake and that’s important to remember. Most things in our past can be looked back at through more than one perspective. Just take relationships for example. Which is pretty much why Dr Sues said it’s possible to “cry because it’s over, or smile because it happened.”

4) IT’S DARK DOWN THERE

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A fear of clowns might be specific to Riley and an early experience she had at a birthday party. But if anything has troubled you in the past, it might still be lurking in your subconscious. It’s a place that’s not just for things that come creeping out when we’re asleep; they can affect us on daily basis, even without us knowing. If you do find yourself often shaken and stirred without knowing why, it might be worth taking the hand of a good friend or therapist and exploring what’s being repressed down there. Because the subconscious might be dark, but it’s certainly there.

5) SOMETIMES, SADNESS SHOULD TAKE OVER

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The movie ends with Joy giving up her need of always being in control. Sadness takes over, and Riley goes from being an ever-enduring optimist to a young girl that’s expected to be sad. Her honesty serves as the cue for the people in her life to respond and give her the support she needs. As simple as it sounds, people still aren’t as honest about their feelings as they should be. Sadly, many people around the world take their own lives despite their friends and family never seeing them without a smile. Part of that reason is the stigma that surrounds mental health. That’s why it’s so great Inside Out was made. More than a movie, it’s a message that we’re not alone in our heads, and we shouldn’t feel alone outside of them either.

 

 

Growing Gratitude

Book Credit - Blossom by Janine Brown

Book Credit – Blossom by Janine Brown

Lately I’ve been reading this discussion thread about daily gratitude.

It’s on a bodybuilding forum; so amongst the hardened personalities and the expected levels of discontent that inspires an individual to strive for more, it’s like a flower blossoming through cracked cement.

Despite watching the thread grow, its only been in the last few days that I’ve started to sprinkle my own thoughts; and it was only today that I realised why.

The ‘best’ things in life are the things we overlook while we’re looking for ‘better’

I got distracted by desire; fixated on fantasy; sold on a solution. I fell into the trap of living for duty and forgetting the beauty. Sure, I’ve got problems and  areas in my life that need improving; but for every battle lost, there is a blessing won. The purpose of expressing gratitude is to take the moment to allow ourselves to acknowledge and appreciate these blessings, thus truly experiencing them.

It sounds simple; but comparison is corrosive, and it’s eating away at our experiences.  This is what I referred to as being ‘sold on a solution’: the idea that happiness has to be hunted, as it lies hidden further ahead in the oasis of an ideal opportunity.

Just fill in this blank: I’ll be happy when……… You’ll realise that you said it before and you’re saying it again.

2,500 years ago, Buddha stated that our desires can be endless. In this day and age, we need a new word with more depth. I don’t want to blame social media, consumerism, or reality tv; I just want to be a happier person. I also don’t want to discount the value that desire and ambition has.

The solution?

Realise that as we are the authors of our lives, we are also the gardeners of our thoughts. It’s up to us to prune our pessimism and create conditions where our better feelings can flourish. Buddha also discussed the truth of impermanence: the opportunity to experience happiness is withering away as we do. So why delay? The willingness to wait is as pervasive as weeds.

It makes sense to me, but don’t be sold so easily. Practice this daily habit of harvesting happiness and maybe you’ll also find gratefulness in the few grains you’ve got.

A Note About Hope

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Hope reveals itself in mysterious ways.

A final gasp for air, the first drop of rain, the step away from the ledge, the hand that picks up the phone, the improving blood test results, the stern lips that crack to reveal a smile, or as the light creeping through the shades against every self-loathing desire to remain in the dark.

Last week I fell quite sick. Each night I found myself drenched in sweat with the feeling that a pick axe had been delivered to an unreachable point inside my skull. I was already down – so this was the ground breaking away to further my fall and add depth to my despair.

In the same week, a friend’s baby passed away at 7 months, and another found out his dad has cancer and that one of his friends had also recently died in a car crash. News was also given that a close friend of my parents had passed away after being ill.

Today, someone knocked on my door to explain the inhumanities going on in Syria. He was hoping I would donate to the charity he represented. I said I wasn’t in the position to – but I empathised with the fact he was walking door to door in the heat, to which he was quick to state, “it’s not about me.”

Of course not. It’s about all of us. And how as conscious individuals, a community, a country, a chunk of rock floating in space – we hurt, so much and so deeply at times… But we also hope.

Hope is an unwavering desire which becomes the belief that no matter what happens; how much we take or lose, and no matter the odds; we still have something to clench dearly in our hands.. as well as the strength to swing back.

I’m now feeling much better. I know those torn by the tragedies I mentioned will eventually recover in due time. I also know that unfortunately, not everyone makes it; some people lose hope. I know that not all damage can be repaired. But as fractured as our lives become, we do find a way to move on and piece together some new meaning of our existence, and, persistence. In his powerful Ted Talk, Andrew Solomon refers to this process as ‘forging meaning and finding identity’. 

I’ve written about situations I’m close to, but such stories exist all over the world and throughout history. That’s another way Hope reveals itself.

Whatever Hope actually is, I’m glad it exists … and I hope you can find it.

Too short at Twenty-two

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Today was just another day for many; the birthday for someone I know; and the 5 year anniversary of the day that someone I used to know, lost his life.

At 22 years old, Andy was gone before life gave him the chance – or rather unfortunately, there is reason to believe it was the other way around. Who knows what was behind  those passing clouds… if he just waited in the rain.

Instead of brighter days, he’s getting flowers laid.
Instead of creating new memories, he’s fading in ours.
To someone I could have saved, I apologise with a visit to his grave.
We already know this: nothing is promised.
So don’t just live life as if it’s a gift..
be one, so you’ll be missed.  

 

Somethings To Say, Before the Sun Sets

Last sunset

So, I’m home. My one year work assignment in Tonga has come to an end. I made several monthly posts during my experience, but feel I should do one last post to properly see this chapter of my life closed. (You can read all the posts I wrote while away here)

If you haven’t been following my story, here is the gist of it: I moved into a new place, started a new job, hated it, but I went through the motions of working and saving. I booked a 1 month holiday to the USA, but eventually got fired first. I tried finding a job I’d actually enjoy, came very close in a few interviews, discovered an international development / capacity building program, thought why not, applied, got accepted, refunded my planned holiday, moved out, and then spent 2014 overseas.

I was as shocked as everyone else. Having spent my whole life in the one city, it’s something I never considered or saw coming… which was why I believed it was so important to ‘just go with it’ before it got away.

Since leaving childhood, I’ve learned that card tricks, control, and certainty are all illusions.

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It turned out that what appeared to be a sunny tropical island was actually the furtherest from my comfort zone that I’ve ever been.

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I’ve heard it before; you’ve heard it before: sometimes, you’ve got to get uncomfortable. I get it now, I really do. Once we’re past puberty, the only growth we get is voluntary (with the exception of toenails and unwanted hairs.) It’s also excluding physical workouts. I’ve done a lot of those. Lifting twice your bodyweight is uncomfortable, but there is still an element of control: we know we’ll either be successful in the lift or we won’t – and we’re familiar with both outcomes either way.

Real growth is more than just physical; it’s a deeper change than that. And really being uncomfortable means giving up all perceived control and certainty over the situation. Simply put, it means not knowing.

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There was a lot I didn’t know: Where I’d live, what work would be like, who my friends would be, what I’d eat, and what I’d spend my spare time doing. These are all common questions to which I now know the answers; but what really makes going away such an experience is the things that you learn … that you didn’t expect or know you needed to learn.

There was a lot that happened over the year; there is a lot to write about, and there is a lot I already did write about.  Looking back, here are the main things I want you to know… and that I want myself to remember.


1) HAPPINESS IS AN OUTLOOK

I arrived in Tonga feeling sorry for people, but I returned home feeling sorry for myself. I realised I had been sold a dream. I had been told by a combination of my peers, upbringing, and culture – that there were set requirements for being happy. There aren’t. Despite being classed as a ‘developing country,’ people in Tonga smiled, laughed and seemed openly happier. How? Isn’t that the point of all the luxuries and privileges of the the western world? Well, I learned that it’s all about perception.

You can’t enjoy the taste of what you’ve got when you’re sniffing the fumes of what you don’t have.

I coined the above term, but I’m just as guilty of the offence as anyone else. With less disparity between wealth and status, and hardly any mass advertising, people in Tonga can devote their full attention to what they do have – and tend to be happier as the result.

I’d be lying to claim I’ve dropped all my desires since coming back to the western world. Desire and ambition definitely has its place. But given what I’ve learned, I’m definitely trying to remember that

there’s satisfaction in simplicity, and a blessing behind every breath.


2) THE SLOWER YOU GO, THE MORE YOU SEE

Tonga has Tonga Time, Fiji has Fiji Time, and so on. It’s a fact; time moves slower in the South Pacific. As a ‘city rat,’ getting used to a slower pace of life definitely required some adjusting. There were also withdrawals from what I call ‘stimulation addiction,’ to which mobile phones and modern technology are the most common perpetrating paraphernalia. With less internet access, less happening in my environment, and overall, less urgency – I eventually found myself slowing down. And that’s when it happened.

I started to notice more things – rather peculiar things: the positions of the stars, the sound of the sea, the weight of the breeze, the variations of trees and flowers, the way animals behaved, and many other minute details. Of course, in the west, this approach would result in a lot of missed busses, pissed of people, and possibly accusations of staring in public. It’s also not humanly possible or healthy to consciously process everything; but it is worth paying a little bit more attention every now and then. You never know what you may notice.


3) FAITH HAS ITS PLACE

I’ve never been religious. Sure, kinda Buddhist and strangely spiritual; but not religious.  I’ve always respected peoples’ rights to make their own decisions; but it wasn’t until going to Tonga that I actually began to understand why some people choose to believe.

I met people who lived in tin sheds and without access to basic necessities – yet they clutched their bibles as if it was their most vital resource. I met youths who were surround by bad influences and dangerous temptations – yet God was an authority figure they wouldn’t dare to disobey. I met people who made massive sacrifices in their own lives in order to help others – yet they were modest in their contributions and efforts, acknowledging Jesus as their inspiration and mentor.

Across these different circumstances, there was the one how – and the one why: God.

I’ve read The God Delusion, find Sam Harris fascinating, and am aware of the ways religion is exploited as a tool of manipulation – but I can’t disregard the way that religion and faith has proved to be a solid foundation in lives that are otherwise crumbling; the way way it provides clarity to those conflicted between choices; and they way it widely opens the hearts of those in the position to help others.

Religion doesn’t have a place in my life, and it may not have one in yours; but there’s no doubting it has its place in the world. 


4) TALENT CAN FLOURISH ANYWHERE

I had the privilege of meeting some amazingly talented individuals. At 17yrs of age, Paul is a perfect example. This video showcases his talent as a self-taught dancer and choreographer. And he certainly isn’t the only example. It seemed that Tongans had the natural ability to dance, sing, draw, and play sport. This is without the many learning opportunities and resources available in the west. I mean, despite having access to dance schools, video tutorials, and large body-sized mirrors, I definitely got put in my place by the dancers I met in Tonga. Here is a recent video of all of them in action.

Another example is a young woman who went from driving around in a car without windows to modelling in Europe, living a life she didn’t even dream about before. I’m sure there are similar stories emerging from other parts of the world. I’ve also seen similar things on Youtube, but there was something different about encountering this phenomenon in person.

Needless to say, as a person who tends to be quick to place limitations on himself, I left feeling inspired, now knowing what can be achieved with not much more than just passion and dedication.


5) WE’RE ALL UNDER THE SAME STARS

As this was my first extended period of time spent in another culture, I noticed a lot of differences. After enough time, I noticed many underlying similarities: Children cry when they fall over, people smile when they see each other, women like dressing up, and guys give each other crap because they care.

On a deeper level, I realised how we all just want to feel safe, to belong, to care for those close to us, and to feel loved ourselves.  We go about it in different ways, but our motives are the same, as with the emotions we feel. Different continents, countries and cultures don’t change the fact that we’re all people, trying to get by on the sample planet, under the same stars.

This is a great video on the topic.


6) TIME FLIES

I was packing my suitcase to leave, and then unpacking it – what felt like – shortly after. In reality, a whole year had passed. Just like that. I regret the time I initially wasted on deliberating on wether my decision to come to Tonga was the right thing to do because…

time doesn’t cease or slow for our uncertainty; it goes on, taking with it, another opportunity.

We all worry and wonder at times, but it’s important to remember that we won’t be where we are for long, and that we won’t be around for long either.  This fact will motive us all in different ways, but..

we all stand to miss something by standing around.

I was on a tiny island where I felt time moved so slowly, but eventually, it was up. I’ve come home to find people getting married and having children, and myself, once again, at a crossroads. I don’t know what’s next, but I know it will be over before I know it.


I’ve got one years worth of daily journal entries, so I’m sure there is more I could add, but I’m happy to close it off here. The experience taught me a lot, I saw another country but also another side to myself. It stretched my imagination and also made me that much more sturdy, mentally. It’s given me a lot to think about, write about, and share.

To you, the reader: I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my adventure. Maybe you’ll look at your own life differently… or like I did, have the courage to change yours drasictally.

To Tonga:  malo (thank you) and hopefully toki sio (see you later).

Heart Shaped Rocks

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I’m surrounded, but the one I want seems so hard to find.

Yet I keep looking, amongst the wrong, the close, and the not quite.

Because I’m after perfect, the one worth my time.

Not that I’m picky or a perfectionist…

I just seek to thank you for the moments you were gone…

It was these moments that kept me alive.

Challenges in Coming Home

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Men dream more about coming home than they do about leaving – The Alchemist

I still remember being in the kitchen with my house mate, casually dicing ingredients of our dinner, when he cut through the silence… rather bluntly.

“You don’t want to go, do you?” He cared not about offending me, certain in the fact that he knew me. A sign of true friendship.

“Of course not,” I replied. Relieved to let out some honesty like the kettle and its steam. I wanted to stay. I didn’t always like what I had, where I was; but I felt safe in the familiar.

After an initial culture shock, Tonga – where I spent 2014 – also became familiar. It was only when I returned home to Australia, that I realised that Tonga, once dreaded and unknown, had also become a place I felt safe.

The year away presented me with so many different experiences: Good times, bad times, better days and worse ones. One thing that kept me going was knowing that I was coming home. So why aren’t things as great as I envisioned?

It’s explained online that some  of the negative experiences of returning home may include:

• Feeling like family and friends don’t understand how you’ve changed and have tired of listening to your stories
• Feeling like you don’t have anything in common with your friends anymore
• Rejection of your own culture, particularly consumerism and affluence
• Constantly comparing practices in Australia with those in your Host Country
• Uncertainty about the future
• Difficulty making decisions
• Feeling misunderstood
• Boredom
• Loss of identity
• Feeling overwhelmed or disorientated

The technical term is “reverse culture shock.”

The most shocking – rather scary – thing to me is how easy it is to fall back into old routines; to be the same old person. Forgetting all those promises I made about changing as the sun would set over the ocean – a shared treasure in Tonga, but a luxury here, reserved for those with water-front homes.

And here I am back in the suburbs, surrounded by things I now know I don’t need, while uncertain about what I need the most. I’m making changes though: no longer going to the gym as much, focusing on development, speaking to a psychologist, spending less time with certain friends, spending more time with my family. So it’s definitely been good to be back – but not as great as I thought it would be.

I guess the truth is that we can’t run – from ourselves or from our responsibilities. Sure, I’ve come back – but with all intentions of going forwards.

 

 

 

 

What my ‘Chris-tea-mas’ Tree Means…

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The inside jokes we have with our friends are like seeds.

They start of small, but with enough attention, they can can grow into much more.

Almost 1 year ago now, when I was living with a few friends, a seed was planted. I had been throwing tea bags into our backyard under the assumption they would decompose. While mowing the lawn, my housemate would come across them — confused and under the assumption it was our neighbours’ doing. Then one day when he vented his frustration about our neighbours’ alleged littering, the truth came out — and an inside joke sprouted.

As you can see by the screenshots below, other friends also used their wit to water what we had growing. While overseas, it inspired me with an idea of how to give life to an otherwise barren tree. Not only that. I was keeping a joke, a special bond, alive.

Each morning as I would sit outside in the sun sipping my green, I would think about the people who bring a similar kind of warmth to my life. I’d hang up my used teabags and string them together the same way my relationship with them is strung together by a series of individual events and encounters. Despite the strange looks my new neighbours were giving me, I’d smile to myself.

The jokes we have might seem simple and frivolous; but with enough care, all together, they can make something really beautiful… at least in our own eyes.

 

A View of Vuna (GoPro Video)

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I’m excited to present my first ever video project!

Having spent several months in Tonga, riding my bike down the same major road each day, I really wanted to make a video to capture the trip (and a few other things). Of course, this was no more than an idea. Which means, it was  post-it note stuck on my bedroom wall…

Then, I was pushed by a gust of inspiration after attending a local film festival and seeing some of the work done by several new film makers. I hadn’t used a GoPro before, done any video editing, or even know what I would film – but I just went for it.

Once I started, the pieces seemed to fall into place as what was once a vision, started to take place in front of me – looking far better than I imagined it. There was minimal sleep, eating, and doing of anything else until I was done. But I absolutely enjoyed putting it together, and I hope you feel the same about watching it.

Enjoy.

Boy

 

A Message to a Memory

 

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Have you ever been fighting for so long, that you forget what you’re fighting for?

In my case it’s caring.

Caring, not necessarily for the ‘one that got away,’ but one that has ‘gone’ away… and been gone, as well as unheard from, for 5 years now.

But still a special one none-the-less. The one who introduced me to so many things – not just in regards to what it’s like to be in love, and human – but what it’s also like to be ‘me.’

And being me means not forgetting my promise, even if it feels like I’ve forgotten you.

A promise that I’ll always be there, at the least, to give you my well wishes on your birthday.

So here it is, about to make its way through the mail, across the ocean, and on the assumption that I still know at least one thing about you… your birth date.

I guess it’s something that will never change – just like ‘me.’